Mount Baker Receives Snow Job

Mount Baker Ski Area opened last season with 102 inches of snow in the first seven days of operation. Guess what happened the rest of the season? The resort closed on May 2, 1999 and as of June 1 it still had 250 inches on the ground; it received a record snowfall of 1,126 inches during the '98/99 season.

According to Gwyn Howat, spokesperson for Mount Baker, a snowmaking salesman called her with a sales pitch this season and her reply was, “If you start working on a snow-melting machine, I'll consider it.” According to Howat, the 1,126 inches would bury the Statue of Liberty up to her torch-holding hand. That's a lot of snow.

There were two days during the month of February the resort didn't see snow–there were also two days of so much snow it couldn't even open. It also snowed from November 12 through December 16, a total of 35 days straight. On 30 percent of the days last season, ten inches or more of new snow fell, with the one-day record being 36 inches of fresh pow.

It got so deep that ski-area management placed help-wanted ads in local newspapers for shovellers. The ski patrol was busy as well, increasing its use of avalanche-control dynamite by 200 percent.

The meteorological community recognizes July 1 through June 30 as the annual snowfall season, and this much snow hasn't been measured during that period for almost 30 years. The previous record of 1,122.5 inches was set at the Rainier-Paradise National Weather Service Cooperative station during the '71/72 season.

Mount Baker's record is currently unofficial until the National Climate Extremes committee can complete its review of the new reported record. The committee, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is working with Mount Baker to begin the evaluation process.

The snow also broke more than records. Countless Douglas firs were sheared in half by the weight of the moving snowpack. Those that did survive were also affected. “Many trees were pulled to 45-degree angles,” says Howat.

In order to keep the lifts running, the snowcats worked full-time every night–pressure that eventually took three of them out of commission.

Although overall visitor numbers weren't affected by the freak winter weather, season-pass sales did go up. According to Howat, snowboarders accounted for 70 percent of season-pass sales. After a four-day period in December when the area received 68 inches, a ski patroller overheard one snowboarder remark to another, “Dude, it was so good today even the skiers were having fun.”